The moment we had accepted our sentence, to become part of the detritus caught in gray waters, the waves departed. Not slowly, as oceans gradually ebb from shores, but quickly, as if it were a film being played in reverse.
We were left with with dead cattle in the park, cars upside down in broken oaks. A few surviving cats and dogs picked their way through the streets, dark mud sculptures with pleading eyes. The animals did not understand, but neither did we.
Relief. We had survived water seeping through second story windows. We hadn't needed to chisel through the attic and camp on slate tiles. Aside from sopping carpets and molding drywall, our complaints were few, compared to the stray bodies flung over fences and face down in driveways. Now all there was to do was wait. There was no radio or television. Only our island of houses submerged in the unending plains.
Most of us enjoyed the solitude of the high desert. Now we craved any hint of life outside our village.
The water had come as a single gray wave taking up the entire horizon. We saw it coming, standing on our balcony over the yard. Dust storm, we thought. Not common, but not unheard of. We had just washed the car. Ten minutes after we saw the wave, the water hit. One moment dry, the next water up to the front door knob. Then past the first floor window. Then sloshing against the second story.
Two days we waited. The cold seeped into our pores, settled in our stomachs. We ate from cans and shuffled around the second story. We crept to the edge of the stairs where the water lapped closer and closer. Is it higher? It is. I can tell. Yesterday it didn't hit the baseboard. Or maybe it did? No it didn't. I remember. But we didn't.
After only two days we didn't know what life was before. This is how it would be forever. Some times we huddled in the living room, where we had a view of an alien waterscape dotted with parts of houses and bodies floating away in the swirling current. Sometimes a tree, sometimes the remnants of a person. We hoped for a rescue boat. The coast guard? But we were hundreds of miles from the nearest coast.
There were always questions to take up the time. Where had it come from? We were as inland as you could get. Could it rain enough somewhere to send the wall of water all the way to us? A Dam break? What dam? What reservoir? There were none. Who else had been hit? Was the whole county underwater? Maybe. Probably. The state? We hoped not. We didn't let ourselves ask if the whole country had been drowned.
The water disappeared fifty three hours after it came. No help had ever arrived. Gray tides drained away as if some invisible plug had been pulled. Twenty minutes and we were left with the wet bones of our lives.
Most houses stayed standing, but a few had crumpled half way, sagging in on themselves in a soggy frown. People had died, but not too many. We expected to find more bodies than we did as we combed the streets, overturning piles of debris and picking through the surrounding fields. The mud was deep in the prairie. Twenty yards past the end of the streets there was sludge was up to our thighs.
Rotting trees, animal carcasses, human shit and fear all boiled down into an acrid perfume. The smell was worsened by the lack of a breeze and constant damp. Mold was beginning to grow in our lungs and under our fingernails.
The sun had not appeared from behind the blanket of gray since the flood. This was not unusual for the winter. We waited for help to come. A helicopter or plane, something from the sky. Jesus.
On the fourth day the water came back. We saw it coming, but this time we didn't mistake it for anything but death, coming back to crush us. In ten minutes we were back in the house, the attic this time. We armed ourselves with the driest of the blankets and the last box of saltines. This is when talk of the Second Coming began. This is when we spoke of escape at any cost. This was the beginning of the end.
The longer the house was submerged, the more likely it would collapse. We knew this, though we didn't say it out loud. This time we didn't expect the water to go away. We knew it would rise until it filled our open mouths, ears and the spaces between our eyelids.
We were wrong. Before, the water did not lap at our ankles as we stood in the attic. Before, our tears didn't drop into the gray as we searched our hearts to find Jesus.
Again, the plug was pulled just before the wetness reached our knees. In minutes we were alone again. Fewer houses survived this wave. More bodies were found in sharp coves of debris. No cats or dogs roamed the streets looking for family. Now there was no food. No clean water. Worse than the cold, the smell, the hunger was the truth. The water would come back.
It did. This would be the last time.
We didn't trust the attic anymore. The floorboards groaned and creaked with our every step. We had no place else and being crushed in our home would be no worse than drowning. We never said these things out loud, but we all knew them. We would die soon, together. Or, angels would sing the name of Jesus, who would descend from heaven and save us. We weren't counting on that as much as before, though.
The liquid death crawled into the attic, quickly coming past our ankles, then above our hips. We didn't stop begging god to come until the gray entered our mouths. Just below our nostrils.
And then gone. Plug pulled. Again, we lived. The horror of being alive was worse than the idea of drowning.
Night never came again. We walked into the fields until the mud came to our necks. All we had to do was lie down. And we did.